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Blog post

Library Lifeline part 10: Using poetry in the festive season

16 Dec 2022

Poetry Academy

Using poetry in the school library

Our question comes from a staff member eager to introduce pupils to the joys of reading poetry for pleasure.

I would love to use library lessons to introduce pupils to amazing poetry from a diverse range of authors. Are there fun ways to do this, which tie in to the festive season?

Library Lead/Class Teacher

The benefits of poetry

Introducing poetry as a source of reading for pleasure can often be overlooked, but it is wonderful to see children embrace a narrative form which can truly capture their imagination and spur a love of reading. Using the enthusiasm that already exists around celebration and festive periods as a hook into poetry and the discovery of exciting, contemporary voices is also a great idea, especially as there is a poem for every occasion.

With Christmas on the horizon and focus pulled by several things at once, poetry is the perfect solution to appeal to young readers whose attention may be splintered. It can help restless pupils to relax, as poems allow a shorter read while still including the scope for reflective discussion in the lesson about how the poem made the reader feel and what they felt the poet was trying to achieve.

Sharing poetry can also be a highly social activity, with humorous poems and limericks energising the room and inspiring pupils to write their own.

An individual poem can also be savoured over several sittings, and returned to repeatedly, allowing pupils to unconsciously understand the rhythm and structure of a poem.

Poems are more popular than ever

Recent research conducted by the National Literacy Trust found that over the past twelve years, there has been a steady increase in the number of children and young people who read poetry in their free time. More children who receive free school meals than those who do not, say that they read and write poetry. Children and young people who read poetry also had higher reading engagement than those who do not read poetry.

Knowing that greater engagement with literacy can lead to better life chances, capitalising on the popularity of poetry is clearly a doorway into helping pupils to thrive now and in the future.

How can I use poetry in my school library lessons?

Our research also showed that most young poetry readers were motivated to read poetry to learn new words, new things, or about other people and cultures. Showcasing poetry from a range of authors fulfils these needs fantastically and linking said poems to festive initiatives is a memorable and entertaining way to do this.

Winter celebrations such as Christmas and Hanukah and their attendant gift-giving can be transformed into a meaningful activity in the school library. Consider wrapping up poems as gifts under the festive tree. This is also the perfect chance to involve Pupil Librarians in the library. Not only will their enthusiasm attract others to the library, but they can help wrap up poems using colourful decorations and paper and then assist you in presenting them as gifts.

This also works as an advent calendar type activity which can be amended to suit the season. Instead of an advent calendar containing only chocolate treats, a class visiting the library can open that day’s poem to share with their peers.

Initiatives such as this continue into the new year when shorter, darker days can decrease motivation, serving as exciting highlights which can strengthen the sense of the reader community around the school library.

Now is also the perfect time to introduce your pupils to the joyful Icelandic custom of Jólabókaflóð. As explained in our resource, during Jólabókaflóð, which translates literally as 'Christmas book flood', people exchange bookish gifts and immediately read them in cosy settings.

How about spotlighting poetry and creating a deluge of amazing poems which children swap and read in the library while eating festive snacks and drinking hot chocolate? For extra ambience, set up a crackling virtual fire on a smart screen and let pupils get comfortable with cushions and blankets!

Those with National Literacy Trust membership can use the Christmas poetry assembly resource, The Christmas Truce - a First World War assembly immersing pupils in a special moment during the First World War by using the beautifully illustrated narrative poem by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey, The Christmas Truce - The Place Where Peace Was Found, with an assembly script ready to use.

You may also want to explore the festive inspiration from Hot topic: winter wonderland.

Please recommend some great poetry titles that I can use!

If you need help selecting some of the great titles on offer from diverse voices with cultural heritages, look no further than this specially collated booklist of poems that would be perfect for primary level needs and which we think are particularly good for the above-mentioned activities!

  • Happy Here, by Dean Atta and Theresa Lola. Earlier this year all primary schools should have been sent an anthology of stories and poems from Black authors and illustrators
  • We sang across the sea: the Empire Windrush and me, by Benjamin Zephaniah illustrated by Onyinye Iwu. Based on the true story of Mona Baptiste coming to England for a new life with hopes to achieve ambitions, helping younger children understand the news stories of what it was like arriving in a strange land from warmer climates
  • Zephaniah classic Funky Turkeys is a collection of his raps and rhymes and it’s easy to see why he is a performance poet. Get your class to read these aloud!
  • My Beautiful Voice, illustrated by Allison Colpoys is about a shy boy finding courage to read aloud his poem
  • Poems Aloud, illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett. A collection of poems to inspire the creative streak somewhere in us all
  • For a bit of fun and healthy fear the Fairy Tales Gone Bad series including Creeping Beauty, Frankenstiltskin and Zombierella are all illustrated by Freya Hartas and will amuse your pupils.
  • A year of nature poems, illustrated by Kelly Louise Judd is a must for the classroom and can be used all year round
  • Stars with Flaming Tails by Valerie Bloom illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max is a collection which covers diverse topics and is filled with mystery and rich imagery
  • A Year of Nature Poems by Joseph Coelho illustrated by Kelly Louise Judd is a must for the classroom and can be used all year round.

More library support

Remember you can also discover answers to a range of library-related queries in other instalments of our Library Lifeline blog.

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